My ten-year-old daughter Sarah won a prize this morning for completing an obstacle course at the library while making the least amount of noise. Yeah, I know…. my kid. It was probably the quietest five minutes and eleven seconds she’s ever had in her whole waking life, and most of her sleeping life, too.
The obstacle course had been designed to make noise. Two library staff members presided over it, one with a timer and the other with a decibel meter.
First Sarah put on a hula skirt and dance for thirty seconds. She was proud of her hula moves, having learned some basic techniques in an after-school dance program she attended last year.
Then she ditched the hula skirt and picked up three round wooden sticks, a little longer than pencils. The challenge was to balance one stick crosswise on the other two and carry it a few yards without touching it or dropping it on the linoleum floor, which would make noise. Unlike most of the kids, who stood up and walked or scurried with the sticks, Sarah bent over and tiptoed with them close to the ground. That way when she dropped the stick she was balancing and it hit the floor, it barely made a sound.
After the sticks came a tunnel made of jingle bells, toy tambourines, maracas, and other noisy nuisances. Most of the children who ran the course before had bulled their way through the tricky tunnel, choosing to get it over with quickly and move on. But my crafty kid got down on the floor and slithered underneath the beads and bells, missing most of them altogether.
After the tunnel, Sarah encountered a relay. She had to carry a spoon in each hand, one holding a plastic egg and the other holding a cat toy. Again, she crouched down close to the floor so that if she dropped her treasures, they wouldn’t make noise. She didn’t drop them.
Next Sarah had to roll a die to see if she was required to honk a horn. Luck was not in her favor. She squeezed a bike horn. It squawked, and she moved on. She had to sit on a balloon and bounce, but she took the shock in her knees, barely touching the balloon.
Sarah’s last test was to roll in an office chair that had bells and bead shakers tied to it. She scooted slowly and carefully over to a green bucket and dropped a ball gingerly into it. The bucket had jingle bells in the bottom, but she dropped the ball in so gently it hardly disturbed the bells.
The decibel meter didn’t go over fifty the entire time Sarah ran the obstacle course. The average reading on the meter while nobody was running the course was forty-one.
I asked her how she managed to do the course so silently. She said, “I watched what other kids did that made noise, and figured out some tricks.”
Hmmm. Now if only I could come up with a way to keep her that quiet around the house without letting her hang out in front of a TV or a computer screen.
It came to me as we walked home from the library that Sarah, unlike the other kids she had run the obstacle course with, whose parents rely on their sight to supervise them, has had a lifetime of experience with auditory stealth tactics. That may have given her an advantage on the obstacle course. Not that she’s an overly sneaky child, but all children try to see what they can pull over on their parents now and then.
Since I depend on my sense of hearing to keep track of everything in my environment, Sarah has had a lot of practice with moving silently when she wants her whereabouts to be undetected. For the most part, she’s given up on secrecy.
When she was a toddler, I put a plastic box of Tic-Tacs in her pocket or taped it to the back of her shirt so I could hear it rattling and keep track of her by the sound. As she’s gotten older, I’ve taught her that answering me when I call her name, especially outside our house, is absolutely non-negotiable. Otherwise, we stop whatever we’re doing and go straight home or, if that’s impossible, sit out the fun till it’s time to leave. We’ve only had to do that once or twice; the lesson has stuck.
Sarah and her friends are often surprised how much I can tell about what they’re doing by the sounds I hear. I usually know which snacks they’re grabbing from the fridge, what they’re watching on TV, who’s getting excluded from the latest crazy game they’ve concocted, and when somebody needs a hug and why.
After all, it’s the job of a mom to have a handle on what’s happening with her child, always and everywhere. If she doesn’t have eyes to see, she better have ears to hear.